Do the Work of an Evangelist
We were two clergymen from different Christian traditions meeting for the first time. He stood on the sidewalk holding the leashes of his giant golden doodles. I sat on my front steps as we discussed missions and evangelism among evangelical churches. His perspective was a critique of mine: “We just live such good lives that people come to us.” It sounded like a nice piece of wisdom. Indeed, it was almost biblical (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). What struck me as odd was that last bit: people will come to us. Part of me wanted it to be true. Why not just be quiet, be good, and if someone happens to ask, then talk about Jesus?
Evangelistic passivity is not so much a doctrinal issue, it’s a coronary one. Our hearts craft masterful arguments for why instead of going to our neighbors, we can simply wait for them to come to us. For many of us, it can feel like a win simply to convince our neighbors that we work hard or that we’re not weird.
PERSONAL EVANGELISM IN A POST-CHRISTIAN CULTURE
Nearly 20 years ago in Boston, where I serve, a religious sex scandal of epic proportions shocked the city and the world. To this day, suspicion of religious leaders hangs in the air. Many make no distinction between different kinds of religious leaders—evidenced by how many times in a month I’m referred to as a priest. Eyebrows raise when I tell folks I’m a pastor. Amid a post-Christian culture that harbors suspicion toward pastors, it can be easy to turn the wheel of the ship just a few clicks and spend our days building up a good reputation, but never getting to the gospel.
Many of us who preach the cross from our pulpits from week to week give ourselves a free pass on personal evangelism. This deception is so subtle precisely because we may find ourselves justifying our silence while staring at that glorious mandate in 2 Timothy 4:5: “Do the work of an evangelist.”
But lest we forget, the man who wrote those words shared the Evangel not only from pulpits but from prison, while chained to Roman soldiers. Evangelism doesn’t get any more personal than that! We may reach fifties, hundreds, or even thousands from the pulpit. But how many pastors who preach the gospel in the sacred desk decline to look their neighbors in the eye over the dinner table and tell them how they must be saved?
A GODLY CHARACTER IS NOT ENOUGH
As I savored what my friend with the golden doodles said, I admired the first part of it—yes, as pastors, we must be good. The world needs pastors with character, who lead their congregations into sacrificial service. We need to speak and act for the cause of justice in our cities and our churches like never before. As Jesus himself said, “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). We must earn trust in our communities, and that takes time and diligent good works. It’s also pretty good advice to avoid, if at all possible, being weird! And of course, we must never stop preaching the gospel from our pulpits.
But we can’t stop there.
As pastors, we must bear the reproaches of Christ up close and personal. Scripture indicates that Moses, who saw the cross from afar, counted it as worth more than the treasures of Egypt (Heb. 11:26). For those who stand beneath the cross—who see his nail-pierced hands and feet—are his reproaches of lesser worth now?
DO THE WORK OF AN EVANGELIST
Just over a year ago, my wife Adriana and I found ourselves at our first neighborhood party. Within minutes, I was outed as “a man of the cloth.” At one point, as my neighbors leaned in to listen, I said with deadpan seriousness, “I heard that the people in this neighborhood are wicked and sinful, so I was sent here to convert you all to Jesus.” I let it hang there for a few seconds and then cracked a smile. People started breathing again. Some smiled and even chuckled. Part of the reason that little statement exploded like an M80 is because it was absurd. No one can convert anyone to Jesus.
But here’s where many of my neighbors and I disagree: God does convert people to himself. And he often does it through churches with pastors who go out to their neighbors and tell them about Jesus.
I tremble wondering how much wood, hay, and stubble will be rendered on that final day when the Lord examines us and our ministries. How much chaff will pile up where heaps of sapphires and diamonds could’ve been? Pray for my heart and for these neighbors of mine. Pray that as I sit on the steps of my front porch, I would be compelled by the Spirit to get up, take a walk, and start talking. Pray the same for your pastors.
Dear pastors, do the work of an evangelist. By the grace of God, those whom you are called to lead will fill up the tracks you’ve made. It will be hard-going, but Jesus is worthy.